Burkey’s a wild card, flies by the seat of his pants. Totally unpredictable

TOP GUN LOGO

Top Gun NES (1987)

I already outlined various reasons why I could never really cut it as a jet fighter pilot, and it’s not like I’ve suddenly developed perfect eyesight or sufficient backbone to get into the dreaded Helo Dunker. Those guys want near-perfect vision that’s uncorrected, so even if I did get them lasered, I wouldn’t be allowed in. But how could they possibly know? I would try to risk it, but I’d be afraid of getting caught and then Mr. Strickland would chew on my ass.

But wouldn’t you know it, they went and made a film about flying jets for the navy, and it looked so cool and awe-inspiring and motivational that it increased my competition to become a pilot tenfold. Top Gun hit cinemas in 1986, which was certainly before my time, but I can only imagine the profound effect it would have had on young kids watching it when it came out.

Actually, I don’t have to imagine it: one of my closest friends, the one who reduced me to a quivering wreck when he brought me up in his 1960s bathtub, directly cites Top Gun as the source of his obsession with all things aviation, and it subsequently dragged him by the collar into beginning his pilot training. I’m unsure if I should be worried that supersonic, missile-equipped jet planes doing battle with enemy Commies was what inspired him to go into commercial aviation, but I’ll be thrilled for him once he makes it.

I don’t know if this one “flies” today what with it being the Nu-Twenties and pink hair and demisexuality and suchlike but it seems impossible to reference Top Gun without adding the word ‘homoerotic’ somewhere. It means that anytime I rewatch the film, I’m on the lookout for subtle clues.

The bromance between Tom Cruise as Maverick and Anthony Edwards as Goose? Well, what’s wrong with that? Characters talking about being on each others’ ass? Well… it’s just a figure of speech isn’t it? These aviator fellows, they speak their own language. With that, I always feel that I’ve dismantled the homoerotic subtext idea comprehensively. Until the volleyball scene starts and I’m left with my head in my hands.

Common consensus on the film seems to be that the airborne scenes are incredible, and still haven’t been bettered to this day, whereas the terra firma love story and Navy overindulgence is almost worthy of being skipped. That’s probably accurate, but how can you miss Tom Cruise in action, whether in the air or on his own too feet? The man electrifies every time, and I’ll risk adding to the homoerotica by saying that I almost can’t believe how good looking he is in this film.

Add to that one of the finest, most quintessential 80s soundtracks around – we’re talking the Academy Award-winning Take My Breath Away, the parodied-to-death Danger Zone, and you simply must see the video for the Top Gun Anthem to admire the sheer audacity of the hair. The film really becomes a terrific spectacle. Now it doesn’t inspire me to start talking about sorties and bogies and safety and all that other nonsense, but make no mistake – I lap up Top Gun.

A NES game was therefore inevitable. They made games around Jekyll & Hyde and Jeopardy for God’s sake, so jet fighters and missiles was an open goal for Konami. Konami’s name may be a little bit in the mud these days, but they were arguably at their peak in the late 80s. Unfortunately, even with full missile lock, full “tone” if you like, they really missed the target with this one. They missile’d themselves, if anything.

The action is from a first-person cockpit view of the F-14 Tomcat, which is almost impressive for the NES, although most of the time you’re looking at either a dull grey or a bright blue background, representing the clouds and the ocean. I suppose I can’t have expected much more from the console, but the choice of some music over the 8-bit whine of the jet engine might have been nice.

There’s four missions in the game, and you get three lives, so this at least gives you a bit more staying power than, say, Goose in the film. The first mission is training, which makes sense. The next mission has you taking down enemy carriers. But the end of the game bizarrely sees you blowing up a space shuttle. A deleted scene from the film, perchance? Anyway, at the start of the game you’re given your choice of which brand of guided missiles to bring with you, and you can have up to 40 badboys onboard. That said, your common enemy planes get taken out with one shot of the regular, infinite-ammo machine gun anyway, so don’t worry too much about being too fancy here.

If you know nothing about Top Gun NES, you still know that landing the plane onto the aircraft carrier is a necessity at the end of each mission. Is it as impossible as everyone says? I’d thought I had the whole manoeuvre pretty down-pat, but the other night when I tried, I failed three out of four times, which gives one pause to gulp a bit. I’m telling you, these past failures begin to play on your mind as well, just like Maverick in the film when he loses his confidence I suppose. Imagine you had failed your driving test more than once for being unable to parallel park. You’d get a complex about it and turn into a gibbering wreck next time an examiner asks you to do it, wouldn’t you?

It certainly takes my breath away when the jet’s HUD is screaming at me. Up! Up! Speed Down! Left! Left! Speed Up! Up! Up! Right! Right! It’s all that in your face until a seemingly interminable amount of time passes, and you witness the moment of truth. You’ll feel absolutely cheated as your once-proud jet fighter smashes into the water and gets obliterated to a million tiny pieces, but at least you still have two lives left. I do particularly enjoy how, even if you do wipe out, the game sarcastically exclaims “Mission Accomplished” and you move on to the next mission. You just have to hope Ice Man didn’t see that landing.

To get through the levels without getting blasted, the best thing to do is feel the need for speed and just pitch the plane down – unless there’s water under there and boats shooting flak at you like nobody’s business, then you can retreat back to the clouds. The enemy fighters shoot what might be cannonballs, or bowling balls, at you every so often. If you’ve got the testicular fortitude (and what would you be doing in Top Gun if you didn’t?) then you can shoot these cannonballs before they get to you. Otherwise, you jerk your plane in a different direction and hope the NES vRAM forgets all about it and you emerge unscathed.

That’s pretty much the entire game. Now, we’re a long way past 1986 but you need to ask a question of economics here. You have a choice between a five dollar cinema ticket, or whatever the hell it cost back then, to see a film of 110 minutes. Or you can shell out fifty bucks on a game that’s beatable in a half-hour if you’re any good. Not much of a competition, is it? Remember boys and girls, there are no points for second place.

20 March 2020

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